ABC57 Investigates: The state of hate in Indiana

ABC57 Investigates: The state of hate in Indiana

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- State lawmakers are once again considering a bill that would create hate crime legislation in Indiana. Indiana is one of only five states without a hate crime law on the books.

Indiana legislators have tried twice to tackle the states lack of a hate crime law and both attempts failed. Now as the number of hate crimes and hate groups rise, there is increased pressure to get this latest bill passed.

In one week Patricia Forrest will mark three years since her son Jodi Henderson, a veteran, became the first person to be murdered in South Bend in 2016.

"I miss him dearly. I miss him every single day," said Forrest.

It was also the first time the issue of a state hate crime law made local headlines.

St. Joseph County prosecutors saying Jabreeh Davis-Martin severely beat Henderson to death because he was gay.

"I keep a smile on my face, but no one will ever know the pain I’m going through deep down," said Forrest.

Patricia channeled that pain into action, trying to use Jodi's death as a catalyst for change.

"Just what happened to my son it can happen to other children that is growing up in our world, because this is a mean world right now," said Forrest. "We don’t know what may happen."

The Justice for Jodi movement was born and Forrest, along with members of the community, worked to help get a hate crime law passed. Despite a strong effort, those attempts failed.

District 8 Senator Mike Bohacek, who represents parts of St.Joseph, Starke and La Porte counties, is one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 12 -- the latest attempt at passing a bias crime law.

"This year I think we have the right piece of legislation," said Bohacek. "We've added in additional groups to be considered as victims of bias crimes and they have that aggravator potentially applied."

The aggravator is used during sentencing to upgrade charges.

"Every level of felony has an advisory sentence and then there is a level by which the court can deviate to make it less for mitigating circumstance or aggravate the sentence based on aggravating circumstances," said La Porte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos.

Under SB12, judges would be able to upgrade the charges if they believe a crime was committed with a bias against an individual or group. The bill lists 14 groups that will be protected under the law. Everything from race and religion to sexual orientation, political affiliation and disability.

"If somebody commits a criminal act against you because of who you are or what you believe in, what you look like, there needs to be additional penalties for that," said Bohacek.

Lonnie Nasatir is the Midwest Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

"I think some legislators view this as a "progressive" bill -- meaning that it's a bill that's just going to protect minority groups or the LGBT community or the Muslim community or Jewish community and it really isn't a bill that protects all, which is farthest from the truth," said Nasatir.

He says right now the ADL is seeing the highest increase in hate crimes that he's seen in his entire 12 years with the organization.

"We've seen unbelievable upticks from year to year in the last three years, including a hundred percent increase from 2016 to 17 in anti-Semitic incidence in the Midwest alone," added Nasatir. "That is cause for concern for sure."

The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 30 hate groups operating in Indiana, That's up from 26 in 2016. They include anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim and white nationalists.

According to the FBI's Uniformed Crime Report, hate crimes in Indiana also spiked from 6,121 in 2016 t0 7,175 in 2017. That's a 17-percent increase.

In 2017, South Bend logged four hate crimes. Three racially-charged threats or harassment and one vandalism of a car believed to be at the hands of a racist neighbor.

But an Associated Press investigation found more than half of Indiana law enforcement agencies aren't submitting hate crime data to the FBI.

"It's really kind of tough to manage what you don't measure and I think in this case that's a pretty good example of that," said Bohacek.

The new bill would require law enforcement agencies to report bias motivated crimes to the FBI.

"This is a pretty big state and I think that as we start to report more we will start to see pockets of these kinds of instances happening and that's where we need to address them and I think this bill is going to help that," said Bohacek.

From Charlotesville to Pittsburgh, acts of hate have been making headlines with alarming regularity.

Captain Chuck Cohen with the Indiana State Police runs the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center.

"Whenever there is a large scale act of violence somewhere in the United States or around the world we do see an increase in people that see concerning material online, have concerns about a possible threat making those reports," said Cohen.

He gave ABC 57 News a rare look inside the Indianapolis facility.

The work happening here so sensitive, we’re barred from even revealing its exact location.

"The Fusion Center itself has access to over 150 sets of information," said Cohen.

It's here that analysts help law enforcement investigate and intercept international and domestic threats.

"Indiana has 611 Police agencies. It's not reasonable to think that every police agency is going to have access to every single source of commercially available or government available information as well as familiarity with gathering information off the internet," said Cohen. "That's where the Fusion Center sits to provide that resource to law enforcement -- federal, state, local in Indiana, the United States and worldwide."

The ADL also keeps watch, maintaining its HEAT map. It stands for hate, extremism, anti-Semitism and terrorism.

"We are seeing that Indiana is an area that there's extremists activity and extremist associations for a long time," said Nasatir.

That extremism was on full display in Carmel in July of 2018, when swastikas were painted on this synagogue. It led Governor Eric Holcomb to send a tweet calling for the state to pass a hate crime law -- making him the state’s first governor to officially back such legislation.

"Just that blatant display of hatred where parishioners and people who were a part of that temple had to see that at the beginning of Shabbat services on a Saturday morning really I think struck a chord with him and the fact that the feds had to take on the prosecution because the state couldn't handle it from a legal perspective," said Nasatir. "I think probably got to him and he just said this is not right."

He's not the only one. On Tuesday, a new coalition of business and community leaders announced a campaign called "Indiana Forward" to help get this latest bill passed

"Indiana always has been a state of inclusion and it always will," said Republican State Senator John Ruckelhaus, who represents District 30. "With this legislation it's now time to prove it."

District 86 Democratic State Representative Ed Delaney said, "Let's be honest. Let's admit what the hatreds of today are. Let's admit that we're against them. Let's tell our judges we're against those things and let's encourage our public to share our view."

Shortly after Indiana forward's event, the American Family Association of Indiana released a statement:

"Governor Eric Holcomb, the liberal media, and liberal business activists, are again shaming legislators for allegedly not having a hate crime law,"

Despite that push back Bohacek is still hopeful this will be the year a bias crime bill is passed.

"I am cautiously optimistic. It's going to take a lot of work," said Bohacek. "Thankfully this is the long session. We go until the end of April. So this will give us some additional time to work through this as best we can."

As for Patricia Forrest, she plans to keep fighting knowing her son would do the same for anyone else.

"He would fight for them," said Forrest. That was the type of son I had. Just like what his mother is doing Jodi would be doing the same. "

She's just hoping lawmakers will finally get the job done before it’s too late.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee. The goal is to get the bill to the floor for a vote, then it would have to go through the same process in the House.

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